Hutcherson Tribute Celebrates Vibraphonist’s Brilliance, Warmth


Billy Childs (at piano, left), Hubert Laws, Matt Penman and Peter Erskine perform during a tribute to the late Bobby Hutcherson at SFJAZZ on Oct. 23.

(Photo: Scott Chernis)

An all-star group of instrumentalists and vocalists (as well as a few famous audience members) gathered to pay tribute to Bobby Hutcherson (1941–2016) at the SFJAZZ Center on Oct. 23. And though it was never explicitly stated, the concert’s purpose was to reiterate just how special the late vibraphonist and composer was—as a musician and as a person.

The very nature of the evening was a reflection of Hutcherson’s infectious personality and heralded artistry: Randall Kline, Founder and Executive/Artistic Director of SFJAZZ, and Lilly Schwartz, SFJAZZ Artistic Producer, joined forces with Tim Jackson (Kuumbwa Jazz Artistic Director/Co-Founder and Monterey Jazz Festival Artistic Director), Jessica Felix (Healdsburg Jazz Festival Artistic Director) and Jason Olaine (Director of Programming at Jazz at Lincoln Center) to present an overview of Hutcherson’s fruitful career and many collaborations.

Proceeds from the concert went to the Hutcherson family medical expense fund.

With family, friends, fellow musicians, music industry professionals and print, photo and broadcast journalists all in attendance for the sold-out event, the evening started with a pair of numbers by the SFJAZZ Collective. Hutcherson was a founding member of the group and stayed aboard from 2004 through 2007.

His “Psalm For Peggy,” which he penned for the octet’s second season in honor of his late sister, was the perfect selection both thematically and aesthetically to open the deeply-felt celebration.

Double bassist Matt Penman—an SFJAZZ Collective bandmate of Hutcherson’s from 2005 through 2007—began the number with an unaccompanied introduction. As he played, a remarkable collection of photos was beamed onto the oversized screen that hangs behind the stage and above the Center Terrace seating.

From a sepia-toned portrait from his early days to a recent candid shot of him holding one of his infant grandchildren, the photos of Hutcherson spanned his entire life by depicting everything from gigs, tours and birthday parties to boating excursions, vacations and family events.

Album covers and promotional shots were interspersed with historic milestones and everyday vignettes, providing a visual history to match the musical and oral one being presented on the bandstand.

For the SFJAZZ Collective’s current season, trumpeter Sean Jones composed the lovely “The Hutcherson Hug,” which referred to the warm, avuncular way in which the titular subject would greet his bandmates. Penman and Collective pianist Edward Simon remained on stage and were joined by vocalist Mary Stallings and drummer Brian Blade (a fellow SFJAZZ Collective founding member) for more reminiscing and a sublime interpretation of “For All We Know.”

Pianist George Cables, Hutcherson’s frequent musical partner from the mid- to late ’70s, was unable to attend due to sudden illness. Simon served as his substitute in a quintet with Collective vibraphonist Warren Wolf, double bassist James Leary and Blade, and then in a duo with Wolf.

Compositions that Hutcherson wrote for his sons Teddy (“Teddy”) and Barry (“Little B’s Poem”) were revisited in those two settings, respectively.

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